Jamaa Rek: The Art of Acceptance

Yesterday, I was supposed to start pikipiki lessons. Instead, I practiced what I like to call “Africa mode”. In the Gambia, I learned to sink into it at essentially any time, but mostly when traveling. We would have to leave our village (Njawara) on the gele-gele at 6am or earlier in order to get out to the main road. At sunrise, shivering in the rain, sitting in Kerewan waiting for the next vehicle, I would doze under a scarf, chat aimlessly with the girls waiting for school, and only when the shopkeepers emerged, enjoy a sugary milky coffee, beans and tapalapa (local French loaf). I came to enjoy those mornings watching the citizens of the North Bank come to life. I would, however, still walk the two hours home in the evening, to avoid waiting for the vehicle going back to Njawara, and to catch some alone time.

Goats on the road

Goats sleeping peacefully on the road during my pre-dawn sit in Kerewan

Here in Tanzania we haven’t had too much hurry-up-and-wait time… yet. We’ve also had so many fellow volunteers around at any given time that there’s always someone interesting to chat with.

Yesterday two things happened: people started leaving for their placements, and our In Country Training schedule came to an end. I spent the morning saying goodbyes and exchanging pictures at the VSO office, then took the daladala back to the hotel to wait for someone to pick me up to go to pikipiki lessons, “wait” being the optimum word. I put my jeans and sneakers on, grabbed my shiny white helmet, and trucked downstairs.

After a two-hour nap on the lobby couch, reading a magazine for kids, and watching the news on TV, I decided to give up and go back upstairs. A nice afternoon of pumzika (rest)! My phone calls had yielded little information.

Midday rest

Alagie, Leanne and Mike waiting for the midday sun to fade on our Gambia-Senegal bike tour

It’s a state of torpor, of suspended animation. You see people on the streets in this state; people in shops, in their offices. What’s the source? Is it the red tape, the wading through quicksand to get things done? Maybe the heat, the empty calories, or, to put it in a positive light, a cultural ease of acceptance, free of fifteen-minute time slots and eating lunch at our desks. Perhaps our Western mindset could use a shot of Africa mode. Not too much though, because I would hate to have to wait for the late-night buses in Montreal to fill up before they leave the first stop.

NATC meeting

This is why I like Africa; sleeping in meetings is okay